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Giant Panda Keeper, A Challenging, Honorable Job
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While people in Hong Kong are fervidly looking forward to seeing the new giant panda pairs presented by the central government of China as a gift in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the city's return to the motherland, animal keepers at Hong Kong Ocean Park give the utmost attention to the national treasures for their good health.


Starting his career as an animal caretaker at Ocean Park about 27 years ago, Paul Ng Nai Kwong, now the animal behavior and enrichment manager, has his experience of keeping giant pandas piled up from 1999 when Hong Kong got its first pair, "An An" and "Jia Jia," from the central government.


"Before that, we didn't have any experience of taking care of giant pandas and we began from zero," Ng told Xinhua in a recent interview. He said that it was a great challenge for the park, yet he felt extremely happy and exciting because "that was the first time Hong Kong has its own pandas permanently."


At that time, Ng and his colleagues were sent to Wolong in southwest China's Sichuan Province, where "An An" and "Jia Jia" came from, to learn panda keeping skills.


In order to get a clear picture of the living habits of "An An" and "Jia Jia", they took turns to observe the pandas in the outdoor even in cold and windy days.


Eight years' experience of panda keeping has made Ocean Park more proficient in taking care of the new cubs. "Having the experience of keeping 'An An' and 'Jia Jia,' we are confident that 'Ying Ying' and 'Le Le' (the new pair) will get use to the new environment soon," said Ng.


Upon their arrival on April 26, the new cubs were transferred straight to the park's panda house which is temporarily closed. After the 30-day quarantine, they have been doing well and are now having another 30 days of accommodating period.


"'Jia Jia' cares about having contact with people, it's not just food alone that can attract her attention, and for 'Le Le', he's a fussy eater having preference for sweet food like apples," Ng was delighted when telling those panda stories which fully revealed his love and care towards the animals.


During the interview, Ng mentioned time and again the importance of maintaining good relationship with animals which he believes is the key to successful training, which will in turn, lead to the healthy growth of the animals.


Giant pandas also gained affection from the public. "Some years ago, a panda mania couple went to the panda house with their digital cameras every morning and stayed until closing," Ng said, the couple kept visiting for about half a year.


At an activity that allowed people chances to learn to take care of animals at the park, Ng met an elderly participant who insisted on laying the bamboo for the giant pandas all by himself even though he had difficulties in walking.


"He wanted very much to taste how it was like to take care of pandas and to express his care to them, it was so touching," Ng said.


The Panda blog set up by the park for "Ying Ying" and "Le Le" is another proof of the pandas' popularity. It attracted tons of visitors to browse through and to leave their words asking about the pandas' latest situation.


It has been 10 years since Hong Kong's return to the motherland. As a member of the public, Ng was happy to see the central government showing concern about the city's development and he felt honored to be the keeper of giant pandas.


"I'm in the hope that 'Ying Ying' and 'Le Le' may give birth to baby pandas in the future which imply Hong Kong's prosperity," said Ng.


(Xinhua News Agency June 26, 2007)

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